‘Young editors need more support’ says True North’s Andrew Sheldon

17th May

'Young editors need more support' says True North's Andrew Sheldon


It’s one of the most common – and often anxiety-inducing – questions you’ll hear in the industry. From Belfast to Bristol, from Soho to Glasgow, the delight of a greenlight is quickly tempered by the anguish of knowing that you need one or more of TV’s scarcest commodities: the editor.

It shouldn’t be this way. With the industry booming, indies outside of London rapidly gearing up for growth, and pretty much every university and college in the land pouring out ‘film and television’ graduates, you would imagine there would be no shortage of candidates.

Yes, editors run the risk of a few weeks locked in a darkened room with a PD they don’t like, or an exec magically appearing and offering to ‘sprinkle their stardust’, but it’s a technically stimulating, creatively driven role offering the chance of often long and well-paid contracts.

Yet in the north of England, the lack of editors is now a serious inhibitor to the industry’s growth, with the existing pool no longer big enough to meet the demand of the new companies and productions.

So why is there a shortage of people for one of the great craft skills – the role in which the raw material of rushes is shaped into what is eventually seen by the viewers?

Channel 4 is aware of the issue as it plans its relocation to the nations and regions, and has its part to play, along with the other broadcasters, the local authorities and the universities. But is it also time for the production sector to shoulder more of the responsibility?

Historically, editors came through the ranks on production with an extended period as an assistant. Working alongside an experienced practitioner, they gained technical and creative experience and understanding; learning to tell a story, whether on film, tape or file.

Cut to today. Post-production is now seen very much as a service sector – providing edit assistants, online, grading and dubbing. Critically, most post-production houses don’t employ offline editors – they buy them in.

Producers, which drive the industry, contract these freelance offline editors direct per show or series, so there’s no longer the same connection between the assistants and offline editors.

This is made worse by the nature of being an assistant – the emphasis is now on the process, with technical proficiency highly prized and storytelling nowhere to be seen.

The constant pressure on budgets means there’s little room for on-the-job training, so the shift from assistant to full editor, for which there used to be a road map, is often now one big ‘sink or swim’ leap.

Finally, there’s another strange anomaly. For no explicable reason, editing is male-dominated, with women outnumbered perhaps eight to one – a balance that surely needs redressing.

It’s a situation that’s not sustainable if the industry wants to grow. It will need support from broadcasters and others, but the production companies need to do far more themselves.

Rather than stumble into editing, we need to sell the idea of it as a positive and creative career choice, and then give edit assistants real-world opportunities to grow, working with experienced editors on real shows while others provide formal skills training.

At True North, long-running shows like A New Life In The Sun and Teen Mom UK have allowed us to offer structured and supported career progression.

Other companies, such as The Garden and Firefly, are already being proactive, but it’s time for the sector to grasp our own ‘creative renewal’ challenge with both hands and start shaping the next generation of storytellers.

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